What is geospatial?
Geospatial is a new term for many, while confusing at the best to most. Few around the world would see the full view of this term beyond the many perspectives it can present itself in. There were many technical as well as conventional interpretations I came across ever since I heard this term first in Madison, Wisconsin. It, for sure, is not a replacement to the more popular term GIS. GIS is more suitable to a piece of software that a buttonlogist would know to press buttons in. I present here, my definition and understanding of this beautiful term for the novice or the expert.
As part of my geospatial education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I took many courses and worked on multiple projects involving GIS work. Though we commonly referred to all this work as GIS, our program was called Geospatial Information Science and Engineering (GIE or GISE). While we were searching for seminar topics during a semester, I asked my teacher Dr Alan Vonderohe to tell us all “What is GIE?”. Interestingly enough, that was the first time such a discussion had come up and he put together a big picture definition of the whole program he nourished and brought to form for us. And to me that seminar was the game changer. It not only explained to me what geospatial is, GIE is, and GIS is but also took my understanding of this beautiful science leaps ahead. The full umbrella of concepts, methods, data-structures, algorithms, data, reference frameworks, tools and technologies involved in learning about the “space/time fabric” – spatial, in the context of the “earth” – geo, using the digital tools is Geospatial. And GIE is an engineering science of understanding and leveraging Geospatial for solving the problems related to the earth. What do I mean by engineering science? In simplest terms, a well defined approach to dealing with the spatial (digital) information through its entire life cycle from inception to consumption. What else have we left unaddressed in this picture? What a beauty, a consummate picture, ain’t it?
In the actual words of my professor Dr Vonderohe, “a discipline of science is born when a person implementing or presenting the science needs to develop a full rounded understanding of all the sub-aspects of the science, either borrowed from other disciplines or new ones developed within the discipline”. Geospatial is such a new discipline of science. A geospatial professional needs to understand aspects of geodesy, surveying, computer science, mathematical science, theoretical physics, cartography, information technology, in addition to spatial analysis concepts, tools, algorithms commonly available as piece of commercial software. Only such a professional can efficiently solve or improve solutions for problems deemed daunting hitherto. The Geospatial science is born to enhance the human interactions with and understanding of the earth-based objects and phenomena thus improving the overall quality of life of our civilizations.
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